Team up Against the Problem


If you get the opportunity to work with your loved one to vanquish the Problem, don’t mistake this opportunity for the Problem, itself. You could blow your chance because of the presence of your own Problem.

Let’s say your husband has not been able to keep it in his pants. He’s flirted with others, cheated on you, and generally made a mess of things. Now, you’re sitting in a restaurant, having a nice meal, he leans over to you, and says, “See that woman over there, I’m going to have a hard time keeping my eyes off her.”

Before you lose your lunch, be glad he’s telling you this. He’s telling on his Problem. He’s trying to enlist you in a fight against it. He’s not just a hound dog who’ll never change; what he’s exhibiting is a sign of progress.

At the core of every Problem is a piece that ain’t ever going away, nor should it. There are people who are sex addicts because human beings are attracted to other human beings. That’s also why we have passion. There are people who are compulsive gamblers because it’s thrilling to take chances. That’s also why there’s bravery. There are people who are drug addicts because human beings want to escape ordinary life. That’s also why there’s fun. There are people who are verbally and physical aggressive because human beings want to make their ideas prevail. That’s also why there’s leadership. The Problem should not be confused with these core qualities. The Problem has taken these qualities hostage and made them it’s slave.

Getting back to our example. I left you at a restaurant, beginning to lose your appetite. The Problem is not the attraction your husband has to other human beings who aren’t you; the Problem is what he’s done with it. What he used to do with it was handle it on his own. Back then, he would see a beautiful woman and he’d be all over her; but, if you asked him what he was doing, he would say he didn’t notice she was there. He did this because he was ashamed. Maybe he also had a ridiculous desire to protect you. Feeling shame never helped anyone do better. Shame drives people underground. And trying to protect you by keeping secrets from you, gave you the indigestion you’re feeling now.

So, what should you do if he says he finds another woman attractive? Well, if you admire her, you should say you think she’s beautiful, too. If you don’t, then in the most uncatty way possible, say why. The idea is to take this dangerous situation, this bomb that’s about to go off, and defuse it. Turn it into an ordinary occurrence and it’ll stop being something special.

You can also praise him for being aware and getting help for his triggers. This is what we counselor-types try to teach addicts to do all the time. We don’t try to teach an alcoholic to pretend that they’re not near a liquor store, that’s not possible; but we do teach them to notice when they’re walking towards a liquor store. The Problem is not that they notice liquor stores; the Problem is that they walk in them without thinking through what they’re doing. The more aware of their preoccupations they are, the less preoccupied they will be. Then we teach them to get help. Never handle a trigger alone.

You might not be the best person for him to confess his triggers to. Hearing him say he finds another woman attractive, even if it’s just a stranger across the room, may just be too much for you. That’s what your upset stomach is trying to say to you. The hurt from what he did before is still too raw. The memory makes you want to puke. If that’s the case, then this is how his Problem possesses you and becomes your Problem. You’re being triggered when he says he’s being triggered.

At the core of your Problem is a piece that ain’t ever going away, nor should it. You’re jealous because relationships matter and can be threatened by bad choices. That’s also why we have fidelity. Your Problem should not be confused with this core quality. The Problem has taken your fidelity hostage and made it its slave.

Don’t try to pretend that you’re not jealous, that’s not possible; but do notice what you’re doing when you’re jealous. The Problem is not that you’re jealous; the Problem is when your jealousy prevents you from teaming up with the person to fight the Problem that’s making you jealous. The more aware of your preoccupations you are, the less preoccupied you will be.

If you can’t do this, get help. Your husband needs help because he won’t be getting it from you. You need help because you’re being triggered. Never handle a trigger alone.

Get Help to Defeat the Problem

When a Problem takes over a relationship and hurts people, the people in the relationship disappear and the needs of the Problem consume everything. If you’re the person with the Problem, your job is to recover and get your self back. If you’re the other person, your job is to recognize the problematic portion of the relationship, starve it, stay connected with the healthy parts, feed them, and get help.

Once a Problem begins to take over, never try to take care of it yourself. It’s too dangerous. It already took possession of your loved one. Now it’s coming for you. You need someone objective, preferably someone who understands the Problem and its effect on relationships. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell the hard truth, but also someone who can say it delicately, so you can listen.

Problems hate doctors

It might be obvious that a sick person needs a doctor, but when Problem is in charge, sick people don’t go. Problems don’t like what doctors have to say. (Although there are some problems like hypochondria and addiction to prescription medication that try to enlist doctors in their pathology.) Problems would rather everyone be in denial, so that they can work their evil in secret. You can tell how much your loved one has succumbed to the Problem by how much he resists working with the people meant to help him. If it seems like he’s always fighting with them, it’s really the Problem trying to defend itself.

If the Problem-ridden person is working with a doctor, then the other partner needs to, as well. You both need to understand the Problem and treatment. The doctor may need information about the condition that only onlookers can provide. You, your partner, and the professionals need to form a team that works together, not in isolation from each other.

There are two factors that get in the way of a treatment team effectively working together.

Get out of the Problem’s spell

The first is when the people who are supposed to treat the Problem fall under its spell. Anyone who has ever been around an anxious person knows that anxiety is contagious. People dealing with the depressed often fall into despair. It’s easy to get inflexible when you try to cope with a rigid person. Parents of addicts have been known to score drugs for their darlings, to keep them safe. Wives will wait on a husband hand and foot when he is supposed to get up and be active. Divisions are created between the people who are attempting to treat the Problem and the ones facilitating it.

Betray the problem

The second most common barrier is put up by partners who attempt to protect the sanctity of their relationship. They believe it’s a betrayal of their partner to get help, a violation of boundaries. To be sure, some partners will see it that way. He may be angry if you tell on him. However, the sanctity of the relationship has already been violated when the Problem moved in and refused to leave. You’re not telling on him, you are informing on the Problem and it’s the Problem that is doing the objecting. You’re not betraying your loved one when you send him to the emergency room, suicidal; you’re protecting him from a common enemy that has him bamboozled.

If your ill partner will get help to combat the Problem, that’s very good. If she won’t, then that should not stop you from getting help yourself. Remember, you’re next in line to succumb to the madness. Create Problem-Free Zones, meet your friend for coffee, unload to your family, make an appointment with that counselor, if only so you can keep things straight and stay in contact with a rational world.

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